When Americans talk about gay marriage do they know what marriage is?

Because of my work as a co-author of a book on divorce laws nationwide, friends always seem to contact me when they have a divorce-related question. Here’s an exchange that I had recently with a friend who has an advanced degree in social science and who is married with children. I’ll call him “Joe.”

  • Joe: “Can you talk to my friend? His wife is putting him through hell. She’s hired one of the top divorce lawyers in the state and is making all kinds of accusations. about abuse, child abuse, etc.”
  • Me: “He should ignore all of that. Based on our interviews, virtually every plaintiff alleges abuse and judges mostly don’t believe them. He should focus on cooperating with his former spouse  so that the judge can feel comfortable awarding a 50/50 shared parenting schedule, which is what the researchers find is best for children. If he fights her on all of the little stuff that weakens his case for 50/50 parenting, so he should just cave in.”
  • Joe: “But she wants to control everything about how interacts with their child. The child can’t go to certain playgrounds because she’ll get hurt, the child can’t see certain people because they’re unsafe.”
  • Me: “He should just graciously agree to do his best to comply with her conditions. What is she going to do? Go to court later and file a motion that he agreed not to take the child to playground X and the father took the child to playground X? The first question from the judge is going to be ‘Did the child actually get hurt?’ If the answer is ‘no’ then the motion hearing is likely over.”
  • Joe: “He can’t let her just get away with all of this and push him around.”
  • Me: “Why not? The only thing that matters is the schedule, keeping her from moving out of state with the child, and preserving some sort of ability for coordination and cooperation. Has he asked her to mediate? Litigation is extremely harmful to children and poisons any kind of co-parenting, according to the lawyers we interviewed and the research literature. If he is forced by his wife to continue litigating, some of the best advice to readers that we got for the book was from a Massachusetts business litigator whose friend kept defending family court motions filed by his ex-wife [they’d been divorced for many years but she kept coming back for more cash, using a 22-year-old child as a hook; he lost nearly all of these proceedings; a Massachusetts parent can profit from obtaining child custody until the child’s 23rd birthday]: ‘You know that the game is rigged. Why are you swinging at every pitch?’”
  • Joe: “What do you mean litigation?”
  • Me: “Well, she sued him. A divorce lawsuit is the same as if you sued a guy for charging you to dig a pool in your backyard but not finishing the digging. You wouldn’t expect ever to be able to cooperate with that guy again after you sued him and threw allegations back and forth in court, would you?”
  • Joe: “Actually I think he was the one who filed for divorce. But how is that a lawsuit?”
  • Me: “The only structural difference between that and you suing the pool contractor is that your friend is guaranteed to win his lawsuit because your state has no-fault divorce. But otherwise it is the same. Lawyers, witnesses, evidence, etc. It is an adversarial process that turns co-parents who need to cooperate for their child’s benefit into adversaries, typically permanently if the litigators are to be believed.”
  • Joe: “What’s the alternative?”
  • Me: “Suppose that you decide that you really need to be with some hot 25-year-old. You could try to surprise Susie [Joe’s wife] by suing her. But would you be surprised if her dad hired the best lawyer that he could find to defend that lawsuit? The alternative would be to sit down at the kitchen table, ask her to forgive you for your need to be with the 25-year-old, and see if you could come to a fair agreement regarding the children, the house, etc. Then go to a mediator to work out the details and finalize something legal. Your friend is complaining that he is embroiled in litigation, but he is the one who started a lawsuit. Of course he is now plagued with litigation. Did he expect his wife not to defend the lawsuit?”
  • Joe: “But he was afraid that she was going to file for divorce herself.”
  • Me: “Well, she didn’t, did she?”
  • Joe: “And his wife is a crazy bitch.”
  • Me: “All the more reason not to sue her. If it doesn’t make sense to go around suing the average person, why would you sue a crazy bitch and then expect things to go well? And if the crazy bitch is also the mother of your child? He should send her an email right now saying ‘I apologize for suing you and I hope that you will forgive me and agree to sit down with me at a divorce mediator’s office to come to an agreement that will be best for our children.’”

(I suggested to my friend that he read the “Divorce Litigation” chapter of our book.)

This is some pretty basic stuff and is required for consumers to read by the State of Florida before they can get a marriage license (handbook), but this married guy with an advanced degree didn’t know any of it. He’s a supporter of gay marriage, as it happens, and after the conversation it occurred to me that he has no clue as to what civil marriage is. I wonder how many other Americans who have weighed in on either side of the gay marriage debate are similarly situated in their ignorance of the fundamentals.


Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

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